DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Ryan Newman saw nothing but traffic cluttering the view in front of him for most of 499 laps yesterday. When he finally got a good, clear look of the Daytona International Speedway, it was for just an instant, and the finish line was all that he could see.
Newman, who was running fourth in a cluster of cars on the final re-start of the Daytona 500, slipped past Jeff Burton, the leader at the time, then had to chase down Tony Stewart, who had overtaken Burton in the frantic shuffle.
Newman got a strong push from Penske Racing teammate Kurt Busch that shot him out front, and allowed him to win the biggest race of the year, and the 50th running of the Daytona 500, in the most improbable fashion.
"It was an amazing finish, and without Kurt there was no way possible that this could have happened," Newman said. "He pushed me when I needed it, and I couldn't have won this race without that.
"I don't have the words to describe this moment. It's probably the most awesome thing that's ever happened to me. He opened the door, and the seas parted. It was the push from heaven. Kurt could have easily gone three wide at the end and make a heck of a mess, but he chose to help me, and that's the same thing I would do."
Stewart, who owns two Sprint Cup Series championships but has not been able to win the big one that starts the season, ended up third.
"I'm disappointed, obviously, with going from first to third on the last lap of the Daytona 500," Stewart said. "I think I made wrong decision to go down low there at the end, but I don't know if I could have stopped them anyway. This is probably one of the most disappointing days of my life."
Sam Hornish finished 15th in his first Daytona 500.
The boost from Busch allowed Newman to end a drought that had seen him go more than 80 races without a victory. It also brought the powerhouse Penske Racing empire its first victory in the Daytona 500.
"I feel like I got a small bit of that victory in me," said Busch, who had started in 43rd, last in the field, worked his way into the lead at one point, and then dropped back deep in the pack.
"We definitely struggled more than I thought we would, but I kept the same hat on and just kept plugging away. Then nightfall came, and the handling with my car cured itself somewhat. I still did not have a race-winning car, but we were strong on the outside line and that's what we needed in the end."
With 75 laps left in the race, pole-sitter Jimmie Johnson was buried deep in the field and Busch's younger brother, Kyle, who races for Joe Gibbs Racing, had been dominating the event, leading 86 laps. With Kyle Busch out front, Newman was running second, dogging his tail, with Clint Bowyer pushing them from third.
As the finishing sequences got chopped up by a series of cautions, Bowyer got contact from the rear and spun out, falling out of contention. David Ragan slid up the track and slammed Roush Racing teammate Matt Kenseth into the wall, and then Casey Mears found the wall in the front pack after getting tapped by Tony Stewart.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. had gambled and stayed out during one of the late cautions, and the move allowed him to take the lead twice in the final 40 laps. Earnhardt slipped to ninth at the end, and Burton, who had the lead at the end of the final caution, got hung out when the pack split and dropped all the way to 13th.
"I can't really remember the last few laps," Earnhardt said.
"I was kind of stuck. The guys on the outside made great moves to get there, and that was the difference between where we finished and they finished. We were just kind of in a box there at the end, but congratulations to Ryan and Penske. Ryan is a hard racer and certainly deserves what he got tonight."
Penske, who has led many of his drivers to victories in the Indianapolis 500, was relieved to finally add the Super Bowl of stock car racing to the rich history of his team.
"We've been open-wheel guys, and coming down here has been tough," Penske said. "I've been here almost 30 years trying to get to Victory Lane, and it was a pure team effort that got us here, and I think that's what it took. We've been very close for many years, but Ryan drove a masterful race. I want to thank Kurt too, because he pushed us to victory, and to me that's important."
Newman, who led a dominant performance by Dodge that saw the manufacturer claim six of the top eight spots in the Daytona 500, said he had his doubts early in the race, but persevered.
"I knew that we had struggled for grip at the start of the race, and we dropped back to 18th or so, and there was doubt in my mind at the start of the race, but we just had to keep working with it," Newman said.
"Winning at this place is so amazing. I remember my dad pulling me out of middle school to come down here to see the race. Fifteen years ago, I was sitting in the grandstands here. And here I am in Victory Lane."
Contact Matt Markey at: email@example.com or 419-724-6510.
Daytona Beach, Fla.
Lap length: 2.5 miles
(Start position in parentheses)
1. (7) Ryan Newman, Dodge, 200 laps, 110.6. 2. (43) Kurt Busch, Dodge, 200, 70.4. 3. (6) Tony Stewart, Toyota, 200, 102.9. 4. (24) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 200, 133.1. 5. (5) Reed Sorenson, Dodge, 200, 88.4.
6. (35) Elliott Sadler, Dodge, 200, 78.0. 7. (10) Kasey Kahne, Dodge, 200, 103.4. 8. (26) Robby Gordon, Dodge, 200, 72.0. 9. (3) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, 200, 115.6. 10. (18) Greg Biffle, Ford, 200, 106.3.
11. (13) Bobby Labonte, Dodge, 200, 85.4. 12. (23) Brian Vickers, Toyota, 200, 83.0. 13. (36) Jeff Burton, Chevrolet, 200, 77.8. 14. (16) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 200, 83.3. 15. (19) Sam Hornish Jr. , Dodge, 200, 90.1.
16. (20) Dale Jarrett, Toyota, 200, 63.9. 17. (4) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 200, 98.2. 18. (42) David Reutimann, Toyota, 200, 65.1. 19. (11) Carl Edwards, Ford, 200, 74.5. 20. (25) Martin Truex Jr., Chevrolet, 200, 64.4.
21. (27) Scott Riggs, Chevrolet, 200, 50.8. 22. (21) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 200, 61.3. 23. (33) Jeremy Mayfield, Chevrolet, 200, 41.1. 24. (31) Clint Bowyer, Chevrolet, 200, 87.9. 25. (37) J.J. Yeley, Toyota, 200, 55.1.
26. (38) Jamie McMurray, Ford, 200, 42.1. 27. (1) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 200, 79.9. 28. (32) David Gilliland, Ford, 200, 41.6. 29. (2) Michael Waltrip, Toyota, 200, 59.9. 30. (30) Travis Kvapil, Ford, 200, 51.6.
31. (12) Mark Martin, Chevrolet, 200, 73.6. 32. (15) Juan Pablo Montoya, Dodge, 200, 51.0. 33. (40) Dario Franchitti , Dodge, 199, 34.4. 34. (39) Kyle Petty, Dodge, 197, 28.1. 35. (9) Casey Mears, Chevrolet, Accident, 194, 68.6.
36. (28) Matt Kenseth, Ford, 194, 81.8. 37. (29) Regan Smith , Chevrolet, 194, 35.2. 38. (34) Dave Blaney, Toyota, Accident, 189, 56.5. 39. (8) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, 186, 85.2. 40. (22) John Andretti, Chevrolet, 184, 33.5.
41. (41) Joe Nemechek, Chevrolet, 171, 27.8. 42. (14) David Ragan, Ford, Accident, 161, 65.6. 43. (17) Kenny Wallace, Chevrolet, Engine, 141, 30.4.
Average speed of race winner: 152.672 mph.
Time of race: 3 hours, 16 minutes, 30 seconds
Margin of victory: .092 seconds.
Caution flags: 7 for 23 laps.
Lead changes: 42 among 16 drivers.
Lap leaders: M. Waltrip 1-2; J. Johnson 3; D. Hamlin 4-5; T. Stewart 6-13; D. Hamlin 14-16; J. Gordon 17-19; D. Hamlin 20-37; D. Blaney 38; J. Gordon 39; Ky. Busch 40-48; D. Hamlin 49-54; Ky. Busch 55-64; D. Hamlin 65-67; Ky. Busch 68-74; R. Sorenson 75-76; Ky. Busch 77-80; J. Gordon 81; R. Sorenson 82-84; Ku. Busch 85-93; Ky. Busch 94-107; M. Kenseth 108; G. Biffle 109; Ky. Busch 110-119; R. Newman 120; G. Biffle 121; M. Waltrip 122; R. Newman 123; Ky. Busch 124-151; C. Bowyer 152; G. Biffle 153-157; Ky. Busch 158-161; D. Earnhardt Jr. 162-168; K. Kahne 169; T. Stewart 170; D. Earnhardt Jr. 171-172; T. Stewart 173-177; D. Earnhardt Jr. 178-180; C. Bowyer 181-183; R. Newman 184-188; J. Burton 189-197; T. Stewart 198-199; R. Newman 200.
Leaders summary (Driver, Times Led, Laps Led): Kyle Busch 8 times for 86 laps; Denny Hamlin 5 times for 32 laps; Tony Stewart 4 times for 16 laps; Dale Earnhardt Jr. 3 times for 12 laps; Jeff Burton 1 time for 9 laps; Kurt Busch 1 time for 9 laps; Ryan Newman 4 times for 8 laps; Greg Biffle 3 times for 7 laps; Jeff Gordon 3 times for 5 laps; Reed Sorenson 2 times for 5 laps; Clint Bowyer 2 times for 4 laps; Michael Waltrip 2 times for 3 laps; Dave Blaney 1 time for 1 lap; Jimmie Johnson 1 time for 1 lap; Kasey Kahne 1 time for 1 lap; Matt Kenseth 1 time for 1 lap.
Top 12 in Points: 1. R. Newman, 190. 2. Ku. Busch, 175. 3. T. Stewart, 170. 4. Ky. Busch, 170. 5. R. Sorenson, 160. 6. K. Kahne, 151. 7. E. Sadler, 150. 8. D. Earnhardt Jr., 143. 9. R. Gordon, 142. 10. G. Biffle, 139. 11. B. Labonte, 130. 12. J. Burton, 129.35.99884 -91.98959